Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd.)
Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd.)

THESE are not the best of times for Nigeria Customs Service, NCS. They are equally not the best of times for the nation’s revenue generation efforts; no thanks to the current administration of the service led by the Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel. For a country in dire straits, a critical agency of government hitherto known for its solid revenue generation efforts that largely contributed to the federation account, happenings inside the service today leave a sour taste in the mouth of observers, including relevant government officials. In the beginning The appointment of Ali as CG Customs on August 27, 2015, by President Muhammadu Buhari, was not without expected fallouts. Being a man with military background and having not been a Nigeria Customs staff in any category whatsoever, many saw his appointment as an imposition of sorts which would cause unwanted ripples in the prime service. According to section 3.11:1 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette No 24 Vol. 89 of March 25, 2002, the choice of the Comptroller-General of Customs shall be by “appointment of a suitable Deputy Comptroller-General of Customs (General Duty).” This guideline is on page 226 of the gazette, which is an administrative publication of established procedures, orders and regulations. A strict interpretation of the gazette would suggest that Ali was not qualified for the CG position since he was neither a customs officer nor a Deputy Comptroller-General. However, the argument by some that in his desire to clean up customs, considered as one of the most corrupt government agencies, Buhari could not find an insider to trust and decided to bring in Ali, whom he sees as epitome of modesty and integrity. But Ali’s record as CG of Customs so far has proven that expectation wrong in many ways. On the foregoing note, his coming was seen as a misnomer, as he would easily be overwhelmed by the technical nature of his assignment. More so, he also does not know how soon his mission at Customs House would be over. Also, not a few career customs officers saw his coming as a deliberate attempt to militarise the service. Not long after his assumption of duty, there were open complaints about how his of value and wrong classification.” In his submission, Shehu Sani (APC, Kaduna Central) lamented the decline in NCS revenue at a time when Nigeria’s economy is facing recession, saying “what is happening to NCS is a reflection of fall in the volume of trade and commerce in the country.” In his remarks, Senate President Saraki believed that there was need to clean up the Nigeria Customs Service, pointing out that “the place is stinking.” He noted that the drop in customs revenue had sharply affected government revenue as well as the need to plug all leakages. Senate consequently resolved to probe the activities of NCS with a view to identifying leakages and identify the causes of decline in revenue generation. Ali to sell customs aircraft? The only two aircraft owned by NCS have now been grounded by the Ali administration, even as speculations are rife that the CG plans to auction them any time soon. But watchers are interested to know who the buyers will be, considering Buhari’s transparency plank. Impliedly, with the grounding of the aircraft, customs no longer embarks on aerial patrol of the nation’s borders, a situation many hold responsible for the increased smuggling activities. “The issue is simple. We are not stopping him from selling the aircraft. But he must not mortgage the lives of our men and officers by selling them off. I am agitated because as we speak right now, the whole of the South-South axis of the country is no longer patrolled by our men. They have no patrol boats to monitor the waterways, no equipment to work with; so, smuggling is thriving there,” said a serving Customs official. Observers argue that at a time the country needs the services of the aircraft to boost the revenue drive of the agency, Ali is thinking of auctioning them off and thus leaving Nigeria’s borders, especially the coastline at the mercy of smugglers. Another plank to the speculated bid to sell off the aircraft, according to experts spoken to was that had Ali fixed the aircraft, the over 70 deaths of Customs officers recorded in the hands of smugglers so far this year would not have been. Customs officers return to road blocks As a deliberate policy which many who
should know vow was counter-productive, Ali returned Customs officers to road blocks in his bid to check smugglers and their activities. Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), has disclosed that the service has lost 70 officers to smugglers this year. Ali said this when members of Rice Millers Association of Nigeria visited on Wednesday in Abuja. But many blame Ali’s unorthodox administrative style for the lives lost. They argue that the job of the agency is to strive to prevent smuggling instead of deploying officers to mount road blocks hinterland. “That was a huge waste of lives. It smacks of lack of initiative on the part of the management,” retorted a serving Customs officer. According to him, with good intelligence and prioritisation of operations, the deaths would not have been recorded. Customs grounded It should also be recalled that Ali flouted CBN’s directive after hiking the exchange rate for Customs duty from N282 per dollar to N313. Despite Ali’s effort to generate more revenue at any cost, under his watch revenue collection has reached its lowest ebb in the last 10 years; no thanks to the current economic recession and low shipping activities. While his counterpart in the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, Mr. Babatunde Fowler has generated over N2.7trillion in the first nine months of the year, Ali’s Customs is struggling to generate up to N600billion between January and October, a development that has attracted knocks from the National Assembly. In the words of Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, the fearless NAGAFF founder, “it is business as usual.” There are few who insist the stakes are even higher now under Ali. Said a stakeholder who doesn’t want his name in print: “Officers don’t give a damn these days since the slogan now is get caught and be prepared to be kicked out. Don’t forget that this is a highly technical job and what does he (Col. Ali) know about the job?” he queried. Area Commands underfunded Nigerian Pilot learnt that the Area Commands of the service are now in comatose following inadequate funding from the headquarters. “We now depend on people we are supposed to serve and check their activities; they now fund our petty operational needs. So, how do we work and generate revenue for government? It is like asking us to squeeze water out of stone,” said one Area Commander last weekend. Dipping staff morale Inside Customs House last Monday, there appeared to be a rising consensus among staff that Hameed Ali may not mean well for the agency and its staff. While some female staff complain against his not being gendersensitive in the “one or two things he is doing here,” others who have been due for transfers are not getting any response from Ali’s office. Reason: lack of funds due to poor revenue generation. Ali defies Buhari’s directive Not too long ago, the CG was said to have boarded a British Airways flight for some assignment out of the country. He was said to have flown in the first class contrary to Buhari’s directive to his appointees. The controversy that generated is yet to fully simmer down. But if the BA flight issue was a fluke, what about the N15million gold wristwatch he allegedly wore to Aso Rock Villa where he was reprimanded by the chief of staff to the president? He was said to have shrugged it off as a “gift” from an unnamed friend. But the question on the lips of Nigerians is: if a businessman hands you N15million wristwatch as a gift, he may have got a favour over and above N150million. “This is clear case of abuse of office,” remarked an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Mr. Patrice Akwarra.
Principal Staff Officer, PSO, Col. Buhari, had hijacked all their functions. “We are frustrated,” said an Assistant ComptrollerGeneral, ACG, who pleaded with this newspaper for anonymity. “We have little or no say in most of the policy decisions. How can we allow a blind man to lead us?” he queried. Two months into his stay there, an expert in Customs and Excise operations, Lucky Amiwero believes Col. Ali would add little or no value to the Nigeria Customs Service and that his appointment as CGC remains one of the worst decisions of President Buhari. “How would a CG of Customs, who says his mandate among other things was to instill discipline in the service, not subject himself to constituted authority like the board, Minister of Finance and the National Assembly? Sincerely, that’s my problem with him. People like us cannot wait to have him replaced with a career officer and return the service to her glorious past,” Amiwero concluded. Customs stinks – Senate Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, as currently constituted stinks, the Senate has said, just as it is miffed by the inexplicable dwindling revenue since Hameed Ali took charge of affairs at the agency last quarter of 2015. The development caused the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to declare that the agency stinks while stressing the need to clean up the mess. Accordingly, the Senate recently mandated its Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff to probe how the NCS recorded huge shortfall of N230billion revenue by the last quarter of 2015, compared to its profitable past months. The development followed a motion by Senator Isaac Mohammed Alfa (APC Kogi East) titled “Urgent Need to Examine the Operations of the Nigeria Customs Service Revenue Drive.” Alfa in the motion noted with serious concern that the revenue projection of customs had not been met despite multiple strategies and policy initiatives to improve revenue generation. The lawmaker observed that in the first quarter of 2016, the Tin Can Island and Apapa Command of NCS recorded a revenue shortfall of N2.7billion and N2.5billion respectively. According to him, “The revenue shortfall is as a result of unwholesome fraudulent trade malpractices, under declaration, abuse of fiscal policies, concealment, false declaration.
Emerging cabal at Customs House Now, what is even more profound at the Customs head office in Abuja is the infiltration of a cabal. The cabal, according to industry publication, Shipping World on good authority is headed by a serving Army Colonel who acts as the go between importers, suspected smuggling kingpins and the service. For every infraction either by way of under declaration or false declaration, the cabal could get you out of trouble if you name your price. There are also unconfirmed reports that this cabal also acts as an intermediary for erring officers or Command heads seeking ears of the big boss in Abuja. The consensus among maritime stakeholders is that Ali is not incorruptible as he wants the outside world to believe. “In fact, the man don dey collect, the man don they chop” remarked a Customs Licensed Agent at Tin Can Port who craved for anonymity. But perhaps the most profound of the corruption allegations leveled against Ali is his unilateral setting up of a nationwide “CG’s Task Force”, headed by Jallo, an Assistant Controller. His activities have no boundaries and he reports directly to the CGC or Col. Buhari, the PSO to the CGC. He has the powers to arrest, detain or release an offending consignment without recourse to Area Controllers or Zonal Controllers who are by far his seniors. Although it could not be confirmed independently, this newspaper has it on good authority that AC Jallo could be making brisk business from his assignment. “He has been collecting money from us and this is not hidden. The whole importing community and clearing agents are aware that he acts as a proxy to his boss in Abuja,” said an agent who preferred anonymity. Moving forward Not a few experts contacted told this newspaper that all hope is not lost if only the Ali administration atop Customs House and his principal, President Buhari do the needful. Noting the failure being recorded by Ali and the obvious grounding of the agency and its operations nationwide, two former vice presidents of this country and a former Central Bank of Nigeria governor were unanimous in proffering the following as the way forward for the critical agency: . Reduce Ali’s tenure to a specific operational year, possibly end of 2016 and let him leave the agency. He ought to have been a sole administrator and not a full fledge CG that he has been made. . To correct the foregoing anomaly, every future appointment in the Service must follow the law and all relevant provisions in the Customs Act as amended. . Accordingly, all future CGs must rise from within the Service. . Given the near-comatose state of Customs now, the presidency should as a matter of urgency bail out the Service by providing needed funds for critical operations like staff transfers, petty cash operations, among others . Presidency must stop Ali from any bid to sell off the Service’s aircraft. He should fix them and let them be operational . If need be, there should be some form of staff, financial, motivational audit of Nigeria Customs to determine the harm and hurt the Ali emergence has caused the agency to forestall any future re-occurrence. For instance, the National Assembly not too long ago threatened to arrest the Customs boss over a N250m insurance fraud allegedly committed by the Service for which he snubbed their earlier invitation. The experts believe that until these are done, Nigeria will continue to be inundated with the damaging malaise that has overwhelmed the agency: diminishing revenue, lowering morale of staff, sabotage, leakages, illegal clearance of seized goods including containers by aggrieved staff and bickering among officers and men of the Service among others. BOX THIS The man, Ali Hammed Ibrahim Ali is a retired Nigerian Army officer. He was appointed to the Comptroller General position by President Muhammadu Buhari on August 27, 2015. Col. Ali served as Military Administrator of Kaduna State, Nigeria (August 1996 – August 1998) during the military regime of General Sani Abacha. As governor, in October 1997 he sacked about 30,000 striking civil servants in Kaduna State and detained 18 local government council chairmen. [3] A journalist who reported on the sackings was allegedly arrested, severely beaten, then taken to the Government House and further tortured. The story published in Tempo Magazine was entitled “Goodbye Justice.” The story was later discredited and proven to be false. After retirement, he became secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum, a Northern Nigeria lobbying group, and a supporter of Major General Muhammadu Buhari in his bid to run for president.

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